Friday, August 17, 2007

MAYAWATI'S HUG OF DEATH

Some years back, BSP ideologue and Supremo, the late Kanshi Ram had described the BJP and Congress parties as 'Saanp Nath'(King of Snakes) and 'Nag Nath'(King of Cobras). Both, he said, were equally dangerous and any opportune and momentary understanding with either of these parties would be entered into by the BSP only and only if it benefited the march and rise of the bahujan samaj (dalits) to power. His words never got past the ears that should have been listening and the minds that should have been trying to analyse his conceptual and strategic framework . He was lucky, as the political class at large has become almost completely focussed on winning the next election alone, and has lost the ability to see beyond. Perhaps this is due to the huge money involved in gaining political power, a subject of a separate discussion some other time.

A series of alliances with both the Congress and the BJP, including electoral and power sharing, followed, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, the home turf and laboratory of the BSP. Both the Congress and the BJP thought they had an unbeatable winning combination with the BSP, and that Mayawati, Kanshi Ram's heir, really had no choice but to align with either of them, and depend on them, if she wanted to get and keep power in any state. It probably never even crossed their mind that Mayawati's ambitions were far more encompassing, both for herself and the dalits, at the national level. Even more unrealistic to them, as well as to most experts and the media, seemed the possibility of Mayawati doing it virtually on her own from a dominant position, given the complex distribution pattern of dalits in various constituencies and states. Also, the dalits had many claimants to their votes, the Congress being historically the most prominent, and no one thought Mayawati could wean them away almost en block.

Both the Congress and the BJP have wooed Dalit voters in completely different ways. The BJP has used the hindutva plank to garner Hindu votes, while the Congress has, since independence, projected itself as the saviour and protector of the downtrodden. The BJP's emotive plank worked briefly on the Ram Mandir agenda which, obviously, could not could not continue to attract voters of lower castes indefinitely. The Congress, on a steady decline for the last 30 years, but for electoral successes in the wake of the assassinations of Mrs Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi, has increasingly lost touch with the masses, by banking solely on the Gandhi brand.

Crucially, both these major parties have also completely failed in throwing up credible dalit leaders, who can give a sense of real empowerment to the dalits. The BJP and the RSS, have traditionally been, and continue to be, dominated by the upper castes.Their brand of hindutva is mostly focussed on the Hindu-Muslim divide, and is nicely comfortable with the gross and cruel inequities in Hindu society and the continued exploitation and suppression of dalits. The Congress, on the other hand, has seen the systematic elimination of all leaders of stature who could mount even a remote challenge to the Gandhi family. The last dalit leader of any significance in the Congress was Jagjivan Ram, decades ago. Other than the Gandhis, the core of the Congress of the future is now nothing more than a bunch of young, westernised, English speaking, urbane 'leaders' whose main claim to leadership is in 10 Janpath rather than the hot and dusty 'jan paths' of real Indians who live out in the country.

Kanshi Ram realised that dalits constituted an extremely significant chunk of voters with the potential to grab power in a democratic setup, on their own. He was also quick to realise that all political parties were dominated by upper castes, and that centuries old prejudices, practices and mindsets would continue to ensure that dalits would always play second fiddle to them in these parties. The only, and extremely tough, option was to galvanise dalits as a new and separate political force. When the BSP won just two seats in the Lok Sabha, political 'pundits'(pun intended), were quick to dismiss the dalit challenge. They remained smug in their caste determined intellectual superiority and the belief that dalits could never rise uncomfortably and would continue to accept the 'condescending, patronising, laptop empowerment'(words of Sagarika Ghose) that Congress and other parties had on offer. Real power would remain securely beyond the reach of dalits.

Mayawati saw the opportunity which most analysts and the media thought was non existent. First she placed a healing, dalit hand on the dalits which gave them unprecedented confidence and assurance, almost as if an unbearable load of a thousand years had been taken off their aching backs. This phenomena just could not be comprehended by the elite who have never been touched by caste discrimination which their 'untouchable' countrymen face even today. Having got the dalits solidly behind her in UP, Mayawati dextrously made both the 'snake kings' dance to her music, which they did almost like zombies. They thought they were too smart for this crude and brash Hindi speaking dalit lady who had to be kept in good humour, to keep their own loyal dalit voters in the flock! Then, thanks to Mandal commission which enabled reservations for all but the upper castes, Mayawati touched the very raw Brahmin nerve, telling them that they no longer needed to go begging to anyone to get their due. To everyone's disbelief, Brahmins of UP hastily shed centuries of prejudice and accepted a dalit as their leader. And, Mayawati, to everyone's 'shock and awe', won the UP elections on her own.

Mayawati's hug of death has almost killed the BJP in UP. It has also ensured that the almost dead Congress is not even able to feebly raise its smashed head, despite the strongest available antigen of the Congress, Rahul Gandhi, being made available in full measure. She is set to repeat her strategy in other states too, though the operational details might be different, depending on local factors. After getting to power in UP, Mayawati seems to be becoming a trustworthy ally of the Congress. Her votes in the Presidential and Vice Presidential elections, lifting the ban on movement of Delhi buses into UP, turning the screws on Anil Ambani and Amitabh Bachchan etc, have won her the favour of 10 Janpath. Mayawati has embraced the Congress again, a warm, sisterly embrace.

The Congress is literally on the huge horns of a fateful dilemma. Mayawati's hug is of death again, howsoever warm and reassuring it may feel now. If the embrace is spurned, death is again inevitable, but it will be painful, as Mayawati will emerge the victorious victimised dalit. The BJP is unwanted for the moment by Mayawati but is no safer. Kanshi Ram had correctly identified the worst enemies of the dalits and had forged a formidable weapon in the shape of the BSP to counter them. Mayawati has finally found the right explosive mix needed to deliver a fatal blow.

Both the BJP and the Congress have to find a way quick to deal with this weapon of their mass destruction. Will they find it? The answers are certainly not going to be found by westernised, alien urbanites who are 'blind to religion', a la Rahul Gandhi. Nor will they be unearthed by tilak wearing hindutva protagonists, inherently disdainful and unaccepting of dalits rising even a notch above them in the social power matrix.

The stark fact is that the rise and rise of dalit power has to be accepted without flinching and with due dignity and respect. The power balance in the mainstream political parties has to move to the lower castes unambiguously. That can only happen if the final authority in the party is a dalit. Will it happen? Till it happens, one can be certain that there will be no really effective challenge to Mayawati, who is certain to become the Prime Minister of India much sooner than we think. And given her enormous intelligence and indomitable will , she just might prove to be the best thing that has happened to India since, yes, Mahatma Gandhi.
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1. Mayawati and Dalit Power
2. Single and on a mission: India's alpha (ge)Ms.
3. Mayawati: spoiler or saviour?
4. Is Modi BJP's answer to the Manmohan Mayawati challenge?
5. Looking for India's Obama in Harvard!